I was pleased to see so many people enjoying themselves but I couldn’t help feeling disappointment as time after time, groups of young adults would approach the bar and order ‘tres mostos y un corto’ (three glasses of grape juice and a small glass of beer).
Wait a minute, isn’t this the fiesta de la vendimia, the grape harvest festival? Isn’t Rioja wine the signature product of our region? I looked around each bar we entered and for every person drinking wine, there were at least 20 drinking something else.
Curiously, the bars in the old town in Logroño are huge advertisements for Rioja wine: hundreds of bottles, new and old, line the shelves, signs advertising the price of scores of brands from young wines to crianzas, reservas and even gran reservas, pictures of winemakers posing with the owners of the bars, vintage charts, wine maps and lots of other material, with not a single sign or poster of grape juice or beer in sight. Occasions like this are the least common denominator of wine culture – you don’t have to order a specific brand or a vintage, just ask for a glass of red or white. In spite of this, young consumers had obviously turned their backs on wine.
It’s no secret that wine consumption in Spain is dropping precipitously but it was a shock to see first hand people ignoring wine in such an obvious way.
I’ve written in these pages about the efforts made by the Rioja Regulatory Council, the regional government and our local newspaper LA RIOJA to promote wine culture among young adults but my feeling after visiting a few bars is that we are failing to reach the new generation of young adults that will have to sustain our industry for the next 50 years. After all, sales to the Spanish market account for 70% of the total, so a plunge in sales here means that Rioja will either have to make up the shortfall abroad – no easy feat in a ferociously competitive marketplace – or hundreds, perhaps thousands of acres of vines will have to be grubbed up. In comparison to this, farmers’ grumbling about lower than expected grape prices is a petty matter.
However, if you ask a winery here how they feel about sales in the Spanish market, the unwavering response is ‘forget about it, we’re concentrating on international markets’. This head-in-the-sand approach, so typically Spanish, threatens to ruin our industry.
Last night’s events have piqued my curiosity and I’ll be devoting more space here to discovering why young adults have turned their backs on wine and what could be done to reverse the trend.
In the meantime, until my doctor tells me to stop, I’m going to continue drinking Rioja and wine in general. A cold beer is nice on a hot day, but nothing beats Rioja and tapas! After the festival officially starts at noon, some friends (all over 40) are going back to the old town for more. We might not be able to reverse the trend in consumption, but we’ll have fun trying!